Whether it’s a critically acclaimed novel or provocative collection of essays, every work from best-selling author Umberto Eco is a highly anticipated publishing event. The Prague Cemetery is set amid conspiracy-rich 19th century Europe, where intrigue abounds—and where a lone, evil genius may be pulling all the strings.
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“This work of teasing historical pseudo-reconstruction combines an intriguing philosophy of history with an elaborate set of reflections on narrative and the nature of fiction." (Times Literary Supplement)
"A whirlwind tour of conspiracy and political intrigue...this dark tale is delightfully embellished with sophisticated and playful commentary on, among other things, Freud, metafiction, and the challenges of historiography." (Booklist)
"He's got a humdinger in this new high-level whodunit...a perplexing, multilayered, attention-holding mystery." (Kirkus Review, starred)
I love/hate Umberto Eco. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself..." There are very few authors as complex and knowledgeable; there are even fewer that can challenge and inspire as Umberto Eco. I have re-read, cross referenced, and researched, as much while reading his books as when writing my dissertation--but isn't that what great writers do for us? They expand us. And, while I always feel a bit obtuse reading Eco, I always come away enlightened. His mind is an encyclopedia, all-encompassing, his wit is delightful and at the same time biting and hilarious.
Prague Cemetery's plot is intricate to say the least--19th century European espionage, conspiracy theories, Freemasons, Jesuits, Illuminati, Hitler, Dumas, Hugo, "Froide", Satanists, the New World Order and the Elders of Zion. All the more fascinating because of Eco's background in Semiotics, and the VERY interesting "A Note From the Author" wherein Eco personally explains the characters actually existed! [*see Amazon.com site to read this letter to the 'Dear Amazon Readers']. The story is told by a vitriolic schizo character with "a soul so dark as to cast a shadow in hell'; he could easily be a monster straight out of Eco's On Ugliness. Within 30 min. the mystery narrator ("pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name, woo woo.") offends, criticizes, disgusts, and outrages every race, nationality, ethnicity, sex, and religion--his only complimentary words used to describe the gourmet dishes he savors. Perhaps my only complaint: with such powerful elements and such an engrossing storyline, I'd have appreciated less venom--but I hope Eco never conforms to my personal predilections! (And wouldn't a recipe companion be too fabulous!)
Undeniably a difficult read (for me at least), and not meant for people that tend to be easily personally insulted. It's meant to be disturbing, it's meant to agitate some brain cells. Kirkus review probably summed it up best with this one word: HUMDINGER. While The Name of the Rose remains my favorite Eco novel, I found Prague Cemetery absolutely fascinating and will enjoy the personal prerequisite second, possible third, listen. George Guidall does a lovely job of narrating the translation, as if you are reading beautiful Italian with your English brain.
Persevere; I think of my mother saying to me, "Sit down and practice that piano! One day you'll thank me!" Read Eco and you'll thank yourself.
This is a very challenging book, as are all of Eco’s previous ones. I particularly want to praise here the fantastic job reader George Guidall has done bringing the book to life. This is one of the best audiobook presentations I’ve heard. So many distinct characters, the felicitous vocal inflections, the pacing, I can’t recommend it enough.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
Thanks to Melinda (my favorite Top Reviewer) for tempting me into Eco's dark world.
So, I dropped one star because (first) I was a little disappointed that none of the stars on Audible are upside-down pentagrams or hexagrams. Also (second), I left off one star because by the last half of the second part, I was drained of all my anti-Semitic antibodies. The crazy fundamentalism, fractured insanity, and conspiracy rich shadows of anti-Jewish attitudes in Europe during the 100 years from the mid-1800s till Hitler's final solution just isn't easy to stomach (for me) after 12 hours of listening. How am I going to ever get through 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich'? Ugh. OK, so that explains my missing star (relegated to the Paris sewers).
Now to what I liked. First, Eco is kinda amazing. This is my second of his novels. I read 'Foucault's Pendulum' years and years ago and love how he folds in the real with his fiction. He makes Dan Brown seem like some half-literate child who can only read travel guides to Europe. Eco is the master of conspiracy, grey history, Jesuits, Freemasons, Carbonari, Garibaldi, Satan and international anarchism to boot. Plus he really knows food.* I disagree with Theo Tate's take on Eco using Updike as a hammer when he says that Eco's "orgy of citation and paraphrase" is unbearable. It wasn't the DETAIL that killed me, but the necessary rantings of Eco's fictional dual narrator(s). The details I quite enjoyed.
Anyway, about 3 hours into this novel and I began to see resemblances of the book's protagonist/anti-hero Simone Simonini to Mark Hofman - a famous Mormon forger and bomber. A little creepy how close in someways these two resemble each other (at least to me). It all works with one of my favorite lines of the book and probably one of Eco's main themes:
"This led me to think, even then, that if I wanted to sell the story of a conspiracy, I didn't have to offer the buyer anything original, but simply something he already knew or could find out more easily in other ways. People believe only what they already know, and this is the beauty of the Universal Form of Conspiracy."
Over 25 years ago Mark Hofman figured this out, when selling documents to the Mormon Church, and those who pimp conspiracy theories now most certainly know too. Don't sell someone something they don't know, sell them what they already believe ... just make sure the it smells vaguely authentic. Creativity isn't a must if you are a forger or selling a conspiracy, just if you are Umberto Eco.
* Eco could teach Jason Matthews the art of how to delicately introduce gastronomes into a novel.
This is a dark, dense and heady narrative, and not always easy to keep up with. Eco offers much food for thought, as he brings a candle into the cavern of political intrigue of mid-19th century Europe, and in it's shadow we see some ghastly goings on there. The main character of this novel, Simone Simonini, is purported to be the only fictional character to appear on Eco's stage. Simonini has been trained as a "forger," one who makes copies of documents that have been lost, or whose existence was obvious to those who needed them - most innocent of these would be a "lost" last will and testament, as specified by those who remained after the deceased, and would stand to profit. Simonini becomes involved with the secret service of the Piedmont Government, and is hired on as a forgerer and "fixer". Ultimately he must leave Italy, settles in Paris, where he continues in this same vein, working for the French Secret Service setting snares for revolutionaries and enemies of Napoleon III, amongst other more questionable activities. Simonini is a singular individual, a most cynical and dislikable character, yet given the backdrop of his life, the upbringing of an equally cynical grandfather, in a time of general distrust, there is at least a level of understanding that amounts to pity that can be afforded the man. Once in Paris, he finds that he has some how lost his memory, and seems to be suffering either visits of an intruder, or is something else going on here entirely?! I would listen to this novel again, if only because it is so very dense; for me it will require a second time to truly gain all that it has to offer.
Absolutely love the concept, but think the execution is lacking a bit. The book is a thin veneer of fiction on top of actual historical events leading up to the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the preeminent antisemitic book of the 20th century, still used today by some to prop up their delusional conspiracies. The history is absolutely fascinating and makes the book worth reading alone, but the fictional dressing grows a little tired by the last third of the book when it at times becomes nothing more than a list of this happened, then this happened, oh, and this happened. Ultimately a flawed if still fascinating read.
George Guidall has a voice meant for audiobooks and I've loved everything he's done. This, however, was somewhat hampered by the vast number of foreign words and phrases. Guidall's accent on the French words--can't speak to the German or Italian--was quite good actually, but it made listening difficult as he switched back and forth between different languages. If you can get past that difficulty, you'll find Guidall doing his normally brilliant work.
Ken Magerman Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Historical Fiction fan. Teacher, rockstar, medival gourmet, dungeon master, expert on secret Targaryens.
Obviously Simonine the main character was the only real focus. He was a great example of an unsympathetic character which we find fascinating. The portrayal of his twisted mind on its journey of revelation was one that kept me chomping at the bit for the next twist or turn through his historic voyage. I liked the idea of this true antihero detective trying to solve his own mystery for utterly selfish reasons which made his fantastic journey more believable.
I like the title
Somewhere between Sherlock Holmes, a Historic biography, and Fight Club. It's the type of book that makes learning fun.
This is the Forrest Gump of the conspiracy-theory historical fiction novel. A master forger influenced European history and personally met and inspired the likes of Freud, Victor Hugo, Garibaldi, Napolean III, Dumas, and I'm sure many others. His importance had a lot to do with filling in the blanks on anti-Semite material and conspiracies that influenced world wars and ultimately the holocaust. Some very interesting bits of history, although a bit buried beneath a few layers of multiple-personality disorder and semiotic self-aggrandizement. It's no Foucault's Pendulum, but still kicks Dan Brown down the proverbial Potemkin Steps with great disdain. The narrator was very good.
I tried...oh how I tried; but I just could not get into this book at all. I gave it a 3 only because Guidall could read the telephone book aloud and I would enjoy it. The novel itself went nowhere in the most convoluted and difficult way possible. I have read Eco's other novels and enjoyed them, although they are always a hard read. However, this time he compounded the difficulty by using so many languages, historical minutia and what seemed to be never ending descriptions of every type of food found in France and Italy at the expense of continuity and coherence. I'm afraid I was very disappointed and would not recommend this except to very loyal Eco fans.
From start to finish this wonderfully complex life narrative is both fascinating and intricate. Love Eco... wish he would write a few more.
Name of the Rose; Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, Baudolino, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana; and The Prague Cemetery - all wonderfully complex and captivating.
I can't say I would "change" anything, but this is an odd book. I haven't read any Eco before -- though I've intended to read The Name of the Rose for several years -- and I suspect it's the wrong one to start with.
In some ways you have to start with the end of it: what would motivate someone to write the hateful Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery that would provide the twisted spark for the impulse that would culminate in Hitler's "Final Solution." Given that, we know what will become of our central character(s), and we know to look for the seeds of his hatred in his earliest experiences. That is, it's a story without any particular tension.
I might have given up on it early except for the way the project itself made me curious. I almost never felt caught up in the story, but I did often feel as if I were looking over the shoulder of Umberto Eco, author, as he tried to solve the writerly problem of how to turn this story into a compelling novel.
To sum it up, it felt like a failed novel, but it interested me as a "meta-reader," as a reader thinking about the nature of story-telling. (And I suspect that's a part of what Eco wants to do with this book.)
Guidall is arguably the gold standard of readers, of course, but I've enjoyed him elsewhere more. This book is a deeply challenging one to read, however, since it carries so many different narratorial voices; since one character often performs another -- and since a self-identified narrator goes into and out of other characters' voice -- it's a philosophical problem in deciding when to read in which way. Guidall helped hold my interest, but not even he could give the performance full coherence.
From all I understand, Eco is a good guy, someone calling us to think about the human condition through philosophy and story and generally standing on the side of the powerless and the decent. And I think his motives in writing this are good ones, that part of what he is doing is to inquire into the nature of a hatred he does not share.
That said, there are stretches here of anti-Semitic diatribe that are so lush, so emotional, that they become disturbing. One of the characters explains that such a strain of Antisemitism is necessary to create the ultimate work of its sort, but it can get uncomfortable. That is, the line between parody and imitation gets murky, and -- as a Jew myself -- it got under my skin. Sometimes you see the same thing with people parodying pornography; you think their hearts are in the right place, but you can't tell the result from the source material as easily as you'd like.
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